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Review Article Yonsei Med J 2018 Jan;59(1):4-12 pISSN: 0513-5796 eISSN: 1976-2437 Disruption of the Gut

Review Article

Yonsei Med J 2018 Jan;59(1):4-12

Review Article Yonsei Med J 2018 Jan;59(1):4-12 pISSN: 0513-5796 eISSN: 1976-2437 Disruption of the Gut

pISSN: 0513-5796 · eISSN: 1976-2437

Disruption of the Gut Ecosystem by Antibiotics

Mi Young Yoon 1,2 and Sang Sun Yoon 1,2

1 Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Brain Korea 21 Project for Medical Sciences, 2 Institute for Immunology and Immunological Diseases, Yonsei University College of Medicine, Seoul, Korea.

The intestinal microbiota is a complex ecosystem consisting of various microorganisms that expands human genetic repertoire and therefore affects human health and disease. The metabolic processes and signal transduction pathways of the host and intes- tinal microorganisms are intimately linked, and abnormal progression of each process leads to changes in the intestinal environ- ment. Alterations in microbial communities lead to changes in functional structures based on the metabolites produced in the gut, and these environmental changes result in various bacterial infections and chronic enteric inflammatory diseases. Here, we illustrate how antibiotics are associated with an increased risk of antibiotic-associated diseases by driving intestinal environment changes that favor the proliferation and virulence of pathogens. Understanding the pathogenesis caused by antibiotics would be a crucial key to the treatment of antibiotic-associated diseases by mitigating changes in the intestinal environment and restoring it to its original state.

Key Words: Microbiota, antibiotics, fecal microbiota transplantation (FMT), probiotics, enteric pathogen


The intestinal microbiota plays beneficial roles in many physi- ological processes of the host. It extracts energy and nutrition from food, protects against enteropathogens, and supports de- velopment and maintenance of the host immune system. 1-3 The biodiversity of the intestinal microbiota among individuals im- plies that it sustains a homeostatic equilibrium state against a decrease in its composition and function. 4,5 The particular in- terrelationship between the intestinal microbiota and the host is a product of long-term coexistence and evolution. 5-7 Dysbio- sis, a disruption of microbial composition by various stresses, has been implicated in inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), co- lon cancer, obesity, asthma, and other diseases. 1,8,9 The first step in treatment of these diseases is to understand the symbiotic relationship between the intestinal microbiota and its host.

Received: October 19, 2017 Corresponding author: Dr. Sang Sun Yoon, Department of Microbiology and Im- munology, Yonsei University College of Medicine, 50-1 Yonsei-ro, Seodaemun-gu, Seoul 03722, Korea. Tel: 82-2-2228-1824, Fax: 82-2-392-7088, E-mail:

The authors have no financial conflicts of interest. © Copyright: Yonsei University College of Medicine 2018

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Com - mons Attribution Non-Commercial License ( by-nc/4.0) which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and repro- duction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Here, we review and outline studies that have discovered how antibiotics change microbial composition, resultant physical and chemical changes in the body, and how such changes be- come a trigger for disease. Finally, we discuss recent progress toward approaches aimed at restoring a disturbed ecosystem.


Vertebrates host a dense microbial community of bacteria, vi- ruses, and fungi, namely the microbiota, in organs containing mucous membranes, such as the oral cavity and intestines. In healthy individuals, Proteobacteria, Bacteroidetes, and Archae- bacteria are considered the major bacterial taxa. 10 Residing in the intestines, these diverse microorganisms develop elabo- rate ecological networks through interactions with other bac- teria to obtain nutrients required for their colonization and pro- liferation. 3,4,11-13 Host-microbial and microbial-microbial interactions establish an equibrilium state of microbial com- position in the intestinal tract. 6,10,14 The complete intestinal mi- crobiota maintains intestinal symbiosis by suppressing inva- sion of microorganisms from the outside and regulating the excessive proliferation of microorganisms that are present in the intestines in small numbers. When the intestinal microbial communities collapse or become unbalanced due to a variety of causes, such as antibiotics, chemical toxic substances,

Mi Young Yoon and Sang Sun Yoon

Mi Young Yoon and Sang Sun Yoon pathogen infections, and drastic changes in dietary habits, the

pathogen infections, and drastic changes in dietary habits, the immune responses of the host act abnormally leading to IBDs. 6,8,15 In particular, excessive dosing of antibiotics elicits the loss of naturally occurring intestinal microbiota. Such loss in- creases the numbers of yeasts, such as Candida albicans, and bacteria, such as Proteus, Staphylococcus, and Clostridium dif- ficile (C. difficile), that normally exist at low numbers, leading to depression of digestive functions or the occurrence of intes- tine-related diseases. 8,9,16,17 It is understood that external stim- uli initially induce disturbances in the intestinal environment that result in one of four states−resistance, resilience, redun- dancy, or dysbiosis−depending on whether the disturbance is overcome by the intestinal microbial ecosystem. 4,12,14,18-20 When the intestinal microbiota responds appropriately to any fluctua- tions and is recovered to its original state before being stressed by environmental perturbations, the intestinal environmental state is considered to be resistance. 7 However, in cases where the stress is very powerful, alterations in the community at the level of genera or species and loss of functions occur, and the intestinal environment begins to change in the following three directions: If the effect is insignificant, the intestinal ecosystem enters a resilience state with a microbial community similar to the original one through reshaping toward the initial state. In the state of redundancy, growth of bacteria different from those in the initial state increases such that the diversity of the bacte- ria increases, although the genes do not undergo functional changes. In this case, proteins and metabolites similar to those in the initial state, in terms of function, are produced. 12,18,21 Re- sistance, resilience, and redundancy are attributes that appear when the intestinal microbiota is strong and shows functional recovery. 14,15,18 In contrast, dysbiosis refers to a state where ir- reversible changes occur in the intestinal microbiota with vari- ations and functional damage at the level of genes or proteins, eventually leading to disturbances of responses and the im- mune system in intestinal epithelial cells, together with chang- es in intestinal metabolites.


Antibiotics can be a very powerful factor causing imbalance of the intestinal microbiota. 22-24 In 1954, Bohnhoff, et al. noticed that mice that were given streptomycin were easily infected by Salmonella enterica serovar Enteritidis and introduced the concept that intestinal microbiota could suppress the growth of bacteria that invade mice from the outside through coloni- zation resistance. 25 Direct interaction of intestinal microbiota with bacteria and competition for intestinal nutrients are di- rect methods of inhibiting the intestinal colonization of pathogens. However, dosing with antibiotics reduces the diver- sity and abundance of intestinal microbiota, leading to a re-

duction in the competitive exclusion ability. 26-28 Indirectly, this destroys the community structure, thereby disturbing the in- teractions among microbial species and the complementary systems of nutrient metabolic pathways, resulting in widespread fluctuations in the intestinal environment. These changes are not fully reversed, even after several months of discontinua- tion of dosing. 16,22 Eventually, the antibiotic-induced dysbiosis of the intestinal microbiota affects the development and regu- lation of the immune system and increases the risk of intestine- related diseases, such as IBDs and infectious diseases, in ad- dition to diverse immunity-related disorders, such as allergic or atopic skin diseases and type 1 diabetes. 16,28,29 In an experi- ment where mice were treated with antibiotics at sub-thera- peutic concentrations, changes in the composition of intestinal microbiota were associated with changes in total body weight, body fat content, bone density, production of short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), and hepatic fatty acid metabolism. To under- stand the effects of antibiotics on the homeostasis of the im- mune system, we first need to understand how antibiotics ex- tensively change the intestinal microbial ecosystem. Antibiotics are generally administered to kill specific microorganisms; however, since most antibiotics have a wide range of effects, they also affect related microorganisms. These effects are im- printed in the intestinal environment for several months after discontinuation of the dosing. 19,23,30,31 The effects of the antibi- otics on the taxonomic composition of intestinal microbiota vary among individuals, and symptoms, such as reduction of the diversity of bacteria, a decrease in homology, and relative ex- cessive increases of certain species, are restored or persist. Other symptoms may also occur, depending on differences in characteristics among individuals. Studies on the effect of exposure to antibiotics immediately after birth show that the abundance and diversity of intestinal microbiota change regardless of the kind of antibiotic. 32,33 The intestinal microbiota of preterm infants born before 33 weeks is about 10 times smaller than that of infants born at term. In addition, exposure to diverse antibiotics immediately after birth also leads to marked differences in the initial formation of microbial communities. In particular, the abundance and di- versity of the intestinal microbiota decreases rapidly with ex- posure to meropenem, cefotaxime, and ticarcillin-clavulanate. Unlike other antibiotics, administration of vancomycin and gentamicin does not change the diversity very much, but incr- eases in the expression of genes related to resistance to these antibiotics are observed. Upregulation of such genes shows a close relationship with increases in certain microorganisms. In particular, ticarcillin-clavulanate and ampicillin are associ- ated with a marked increase in Klebsiella pneumoniae, together with an increase in gene expression related to resistance to the antibiotics. 34 Anaerobic bacteria account for a large proportion of the in- testinal microbiota and play an important role in the develop- ment of intestinal immunity. 15,26,32,33,35 These organisms pro-


Disruption of the Gut Ecosystem by Antibiotics duce volatile fatty acids, such as butyrate, which activate

Disruption of the Gut Ecosystem by Antibiotics

duce volatile fatty acids, such as butyrate, which activate im- mune cells to help maintain a healthy gut. Clindamycin, a br- oad-spectrum antibiotic against anaerobic bacteria, is released from bile after administration and accumulates at high con- centrations in the feces, affecting the composition of the intes- tinal microbiota for a long time, even after discontinuation of dosing. 22 Clindamycin is known to have the greatest effect on the function of intestinal microbiota that shows resistance to the pathogenic bacteria C. difficile. Studies of the effects of clar- ithromycin, metronidazole, and omeprazole on the composi- tion of the pharyngeal and fecal bacterial taxa show that these antibiotics may affect 30% or more of the microbiota compo- sition, and although the microbiota may partially recover, the effects can persist for at least 4 years after exposure. 33 In addi- tion, analysis of the changes in microbiota between before and after treatment of patients with fluoroquinolone and β-lactam antibiotics for 1 week showed that the 16S rRNA copy number did not change or increased, while changes in the composition of microbiota and a reduction in the diversity were observed. In particular, an increase in the ratio of Bacteroidetes to Fir- micutetes was observed, and the distribution of the bacterial taxa tended to be simplified. 26 Even ciprofloxacin, which exhibits relatively low activity ag- ainst anaerobic bacteria, can have a profound effect on the composition of intestinal microbiota. 36,37 Ciprofloxacin was pre- scribed for 5 days to patients who had not taken the antibiotic previously and changes in the intestinal microbiota between 60 days before dosing and after dosing and between after dos- ing and 6 months after discontinuation of dosing were ana- lyzed. The results showed that the diversity of bacterial taxa decreased by approximately one-third, and the taxonomic ab- undance, diversity, and uniformity of the intestinal microbiota decreased. 36,38 The results of another study indicated that the diversity of the bacterial taxa had already begun to decrease in the early stages of exposure to the antibiotic, and when dif- ferences in responses among individuals and the degree and time of recovery of the microbiota were measured, universal decreases in Ruminococcaceae were observed, in addition to the rapid destruction of bacterial diversity. Although some compositional changes persisted, even after 6 months had pass- ed, most of the compositions showed a tendency to recover almost completely by 1 month after dosing. These differences were shown to be attributable to the diversity of intestinal mi- crobiota in the early stage, indicating that the diversity of the bacterial taxa of intestinal microbiota plays an important role in the subsequent recovery of diversity to the redundancy state. 5,37 In addition, re-exposure to the same amount of ciprofloxacin

months later showed similar effects on the structure of intes- tinal microbiota, although there was a tendency for less effi-


cient recovery. 36



Antibiotics trigger the proliferation of intestinal pathogenic bacteria 22 due to the ability of infectious bacteria to effectively exploit the disorder that arises when the intestinal microbiota has collapsed. 10,39 Although there are still many questions about the causes of increased bacterial infections in the intestines after antibiotic treatment, the most interesting facts revealed thus far are described below (Fig. 1).

Inflammatory responses of hosts

In the intestinal environment, obligatory anaerobic bacteria such as Bacteroidia and Clostridia lack genes related to aero- bic respiration and grow through the fermentation of amino acids or polysaccharides (Fig. 1A). Imbalance of the intestinal microbiota induces intestinal inflammatory responses, and the most important environmental change in this regard is the increase in reactive nitrogen species (RNS) and reactive oxygen species (ROS). In the case of patients suffering from IBD, ex- pression of inducible nitric oxide synthase in the intestinal ep- ithelium increases and nitric oxide (NO ) concentrations in the lumen of the colon increases. NO reacts with superoxide rad- icals (O 2 ) to give peroxynitrite (ONOO ), thereby producing ni- trate (NO 3 ), or oxidizes organic sulfides and tertiary amines into S-oxides and N-oxides, respectively. Unlike obligatory an- aerobic bacteria, Enterobacteriaceae are capable of anaerobic respiration using nitrate, S-oxides, and N-oxides as the final electron transport receptors. 40 ROS and RNS produced by the host’s immune system can be utilized by facultative anaerobic bacteria such as Escherichia coli (E. coli) and aerobic bacte- ria. 41,42 E. coli is present in small numbers in healthy intestines, but its levels tend to increase significantly in streptomycin-treat- ed mice (Fig. 1B). An E. coli mutant lacking moaA, a gene nec- essary for the biosynthesis of the molybdenum cofactor that is absolutely necessary for the activity of nitrate reductases, S- oxide reductases, and N-oxide reductases, tends to show a re- duction in intestinal proliferation in mice with inflammation induced by dextran sulfate sodium. 42 Salmonella also undergo aerobic respiration using the ROS produced by neutrophils and tetrathionate (S 4 O 6 2- ), an electron transfer compound pro- duced in the oxidation pathway of hydrogen sulphide (H 2 S) produced by microorganisms (Fig. 1B). 42 In a study of the pathogenesis of Vibrio cholerae under the oxidative stress in- duced by various antibiotics, overgrowth of Enterobacteriace- ae and Enterococci was observed after administration of streptomycin. 43 This study showed that changes in the com- munity of intestinal microbiota caused by the antibiotic lead to increases in ROS in the intestinal environment. Atypical E. coli harboring extra catalase (katE) are adapted to this envi- ronment and excessively proliferate resulting in a temporary decrease in the ROS concentration, and cholera bacteria can effectively use such conditions (Fig. 1E).

Mi Young Yoon and Sang Sun Yoon A B C D E
Mi Young Yoon and Sang Sun Yoon

Fig. 1. Pathogens exploit the antibiotic-induced inflammatory conditions. Pathogens use sugars and inorganic compounds generated by the intestinal microbiota as carbon or energy sources and perform anaerobic respiration in the inflammatory conditions caused by antibiotics. (A) When the distri- bution of intestinal microorganisms is in a stable state, the invasion of pathogenic bacteria is suppressed by antimicrobial substances produced from intestinal bacteria and host cells and the inflammation is suitably controlled. (B) In an inflammatory condition, the colonization of E. coli and Salmo- nella expands through anaerobic respiration using ROS and RNS, which are released by DUOX2 and iNOS in epithelial cells. Hydrogen sulfide de- rived from sulfate-reducing bacteria such as Desulfovibrio spp. is converted to thiosulfate during cellular respiration in colonic epithelial cells. ROS generated by neutrophils convert the thiosulfate into tetrathionate that can be used as an electron acceptor. During this process, the generated tetra- thionate boosts the growth of S. Typhimurium through tetrathionate respiration that converts tetrathionate to thiosulfate. E. coli reduces nitrate to ni- trite through nitrate respiration. (C) Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron decomposes mucosal glycoconjugates to produce sialic acid. EHEC and Salmonel- la can use the sialic acid as a carbon source. Inflammatory conditions lead to release of fucose from host glycan and the liberated fucose is subsequently consumed by pathogens. As an example, EHEC are known to regulate the expression of virulence genes by sensing the fucose. (D) C. difficile, C. rodentium, and EHEC utilize succinate, which is produced by other intestinal microorganisms. SCFAs excreted during polysaccharide me- tabolism by aerobic bacteria and butyrate, propionate, and acetate are predominantly present in the intestinal environment. A commensal bacterium, Bacteroides spp., mainly distributes succinate, which is subsequently consumed by secondary fermentative microbes in a steady state and therefore rarely accumulates in the intestinal environment. However, succinate is not consumed under antibiotic treatment or inflammatory conditions, eventu- ally leading to its accumulation in the intestinal lumen. Succinate promotes gluconeogenesis of EHEC. In addition, the colonization and proliferation of C. rodentium are enhanced, especially with expression of virulence genes of the LEE. C. difficile can couple succinate metabolism and convert it to butyrate with the fermentation of carbohydrates, thereby enhancing its colonization and virulence. (E) Antibiotics can trigger the growth of Entero- bacteriaceae. ROS at high concentrations result in an expansion of E. coli harboring an extra catalase that are genetically generated through chro- mosomal modification and eventually favor intestinal colonization of Vibrio cholerae, a strain that is highly sensitive strain to ROS, by reducing the ROS that are excessively generated in inflammatory conditions. E. coli, Escherichia coli ; ROS, reactive oxygen species; RNS, reactive nitrogen spe- cies; iNOS, inducible nitric oxide synthase; EHEC, Enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli; C. difficile, Clostridium difficile; C. rodentium, Citrobacter ro- dentium; SCFAs, short-chain fatty acids; LEE, locus of enterocyte effacement.

Intestinal nutrients

Microorganisms produce and consume products through dif- ferent metabolic pathways, and the ecosystem therefore con- sists of highly sophisticated networks. 44,45 The Archaebacteriae Methanobrevibacter smithii and Bacteroides thethaiotaomi- cron can be more effectively established in sterile rats together than singly due to cooperation in polysaccharide metabolism through the pathway that converts fructan to acetate and the resultant formate. 46 In addition, results indicating that Bifido- bacterium adolescentis, which degrades macromolecular car- bohydrates, is capable of providing the substrates lactate and

acetate to bacteria that produce butyrate in the intestines dem- onstrate the ability of bacteria to use each other to overcome conditions of insufficient metabolic pathways. 47 Antibiotics have been reported to alter the intestinal micro- biota involved in carbohydrate metabolism, thereby increas- ing the intestinal concentrations of carbohydrates essential for the proliferation of infectious bacteria. 48 Most intestinal resident bacteria and pathogenic bacteria can utilize intestinal sialic acid (Neu5Ac) as a nutrient (Fig. 1C). Bacteroides thetatiotao- micron (B. thetatiotaomicron), one of the representative com- mensal bacteria, possesses a sialidase enzyme capable of de-


Disruption of the Gut Ecosystem by Antibiotics grading glycoconjugates present in the mucosa in order to

Disruption of the Gut Ecosystem by Antibiotics

grading glycoconjugates present in the mucosa in order to produce sialic acid but the metabolic pathway that consumes it is incomplete. 49 In contrast, Salmonella enterica serovar Ty- phimurium (S. Typhimurium hereafter) and C. difficile have a nan operon, which is necessary to use sialic acid, but do not have sialidase, which is required to produce sialic acid from the intestinal mucosa. When B. thetatiotaomicron was trans- ferred to germ-free mice and the degree of sialic acid metabo- lism by S. Typhimurium and C. difficile in these mice was com- pared with that in untreated mice, increases in the expression of nanE (a gene in the sialic acid degradation pathway) and the fuc1 operon (fucose metabolizing gene cluster) were ob- served in S. Typhimurium proliferating in B. thetatiotaomicron mice. In the case of C. difficile, increases in the expression of nanA and nanE genes were observed. In addition, when nor- mal mice were treated with streptomycin relatively more sialic acid was produced and increases in the expression of genes re- lated to sialic acid metabolism were identified in the group treat- ed with the antibiotic. 49 Another study reported that C. difficile is capable of proliferating in the intestine using the succinate- butyrate metabolic pathway (Fig. 1D). In the presence of B. thet- atiotaomicron, the pathway by which C. difficile metabolizes succinate, a product of fermentation by B. thetatiotaomicron, into butyrate is further induced. 50 In environments with excess polysaccharide, B. thetatiotaomicron produces a high concen- tration of succinate and C. difficile produces butyrate. In addi- tion, the amount of succinate present in the intestines of mice with normal bacterial flora increased following antibiotic treat- ment, and mutant strains deficient in the ability to use succi- nate due to loss of the succinate transporter showed decreased intestinal proliferation. 50 In fact, B. thetatiotaomicron is a nor- mal intestinal bacterial flora and a beneficial bacterium with the ability to metabolize diverse carbohydrates. Therefore, the production of succinate also occurs under the condition of nor- mal bacterial flora. 51 However, in this study, levels of the SCFAs acetate and butyrate decreased, while that of succinate in- creased, in intestines where diarrhea was induced by treatment with antibiotics or polyethylene glycol, indicating that the in- crease in succinate due to changes in intestinal gluconeogene- sis caused by antibiotics can be one of the various causes that promote the proliferation of C. difficile. The use of succinate is also observed in Citrobacter rodentium (C. rodentium) (Fig. 1D). C. rodentium is known to initiate expression of the pathogenic factor genes ler, espA, eae, nleAr, and stx2, which are the locus of the enterocyte effacement genes essential for intestinal in- fections, by recognizing succinate and regulating the tran- scription factor Cra. 52

Respiratory electron transport system components

Intestinal inflammatory responses help S. Typhimurium spread to the lumen of the large intestine, and migration to the colon facilitates feces-oral cavity transfer to other highly susceptible hosts. 25,53,54 S. typhimurium, which induces salmonellosis in


humans, has been reported to be amplified in mice treated with vancomycin and streptomycin. 16 In particular, excessive use of antibiotics during post-operative convalescence may cause recurrence of bacterial infections and pathological symp- toms. Known pathogenic factors for non-typhoid Salmonella, such as S. typhimurium, include the invasion-associated type III secretion system (T3SS-1) necessary for the pathogen to enter the intestinal epithelial cells, and the second type III se- cretion system (T3SS-2) necessary for survival of the pathogen in the tissues. The increase in proliferation of S. Typhimurium in the intestines is attributed to increases in respiratory elec- tron transport components generated during the host’s in - flammatory responses (Fig. 1B). For instance, S. Typhimurium can form nitrate, a substrate for anaerobic respiration, using RNS, one of the outcomes of inflammation. 55 Other examples are explained by the use of SCFAs (Fig. 2A). SCFAs such as bu- tyrate, acetate, and propionate are produced by the anaerobic bacteria present in the large intestine and are used for barrier functions such as IL-8 secretion and mucus production by in- testinal epithelial cells, the tight junction between intestinal cells, and the activation of intestinal cells. 44,56,57 They are also used as an energy source for intestinal cells. In addition, butyrate plays a role in regulating hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF), a tran- scription factor that regulates the barrier function, mucus pro- duction, and defends against pathogens of intestinal epithelial cells. 45,57 The epithelium of the large intestine is relatively hy- poxic because it is located between the intestinal lumen with low oxygen partial pressure and the lamina propria with high oxygen concentration. SCFAs promote O 2 consumption of hu- man intestinal cells to maintain the intestinal environment an- aerobically and stabilize HIF-1α, a subunit of HIF. After treat- ment with antibiotics, staining with the O 2- sensitive dye pi- monidazole was lost, and the activity of HIF-1α was decreased. In addition, oral administration of butyrate resulted in an in- crease in HIF-1α concentration and buytrate concentration- dependent recovery of the barrier effect of intestinal cells. 45 Antibiotic treatment increases oxygen production in the co- lon epithelial cells, increasing the oxygen content in the intes- tinal lumen. A decrease in Clostridia, a producer of butyrate, is expected to increase the oxidation reactions of the intestinal cells and promote the diffusion of oxygen into the intestinal lu- men (Fig. 2). Oxygen is the only respiratory electron transport receptor with greater oxidation-reduction potential than ni- trate, and is more effectively used by aerobic or facultative an- aerobic microorganisms. The oxygen partial pressure, which is about 100 mm Hg in the basal layer, becomes 20−40 mm Hg in the mucus layer and reaches almost 0 mm Hg in the lumen, leading to hypoxia. 58 Therefore, changes in the intestinal oxy- gen partial pressure caused by antibiotic treatment are the first obstacle to the survival of intestinal microbiota and can be a very important factor in the induction of infectious disease. Colonic cells oxidize butyrate to form CO 2 , leading to a hypoxic (<7.6 mm Hg or <1% O 2 ) state. However, in the case of neona-

Mi Young Yoon and Sang Sun Yoon O 2 (mm Hg) A B
Mi Young Yoon and Sang Sun Yoon
(mm Hg)

Fig. 2. Effects of antibiotics on the hypoxia barrier of intestinal epithelial cells. (A) In normal conditions, oxygen tension decreases steadily from the in- testinal submucosal layer to the lumen. Although the partial pressure of oxygen is approximately 100 mm Hg in the basal layer, it is almost 0 mm Hg in the lumen. Under antibiotic treatment or inflammatory conditions, Clostridia produce butyrate and colonic epithelial cells convert the butyrate to car- bon dioxide, leading to maintenance of hypoxia in the lumen. (B) When butyrate is lacking in the intestine, the cells utilize glucose for cellular respira- tion and the lactate that is released during the process increases oxygenation within the lumen. S. Typhimurium can proliferate using cytochrome bd- II oxidase encoded in cyxB, which is highly expressed at low oxygen concentrations.

tal mice, since butyrate, which is a metabolite of intestinal mi- crobiota, is not present, energy is obtained by producing lac- tate from glucose. This process increases the oxygenation of intestinal cells. 45 For respiration using oxygen, Salmonella uses cytochrome bd oxidase produced by cydA and cytoch- rome bd-II oxidase produced by cyxB. Salmonella can prolif- erate using the cytochrome bd-II oxidase at a low oxygen partial pressure (0.8%) (Fig. 2B). 54 Moreover, treatment with tributyrin rescued the large intestine of streptomycin-treated mice from the hypoxia state and increased the butyrate concentration of the cecum.


The most serious gut-associated disease caused by antibiotics is pseudomembranous, which is a typical antibiotic-associat- ed diarrhea caused by an increase in C. difficile. C. difficile in- fection (CDI) is one of the most common pathogenic infec- tions, and is particularly prevalent among patients continuously taking antibiotics. 48,59,60 CDI was first recognized in advanced countries such as the United States and European countries where many cases are observed. The treatment and recurrence of this disease occur repeatedly, and since recurrent cases can- not be easily treated with general antibiotics, this bacterium is classified as a serious disease causative organism. 59 Control and complete treatment of C. difficile is hard because its spores can survive several years, even in alcohol. 48 Although there is a continuously increasing trend in the number of CDI patients in foreign countries the number of cases in South Korea is still small, although collective outbreaks are considered possible. Approaches such as developing antibiotics with a new ac- tive mechanism, targeting pathogenic factors, or using native

microorganisms such as probiotics, have been attempted. 61,62 However, such developments or attempts still generate many controversies in terms of safety or effectiveness. In the follow- ing section, representative non-antibiotic treatment methods used to treat C. difficile and other gut-associated diseases are introduced.

Fecal microbiota transplantation

Fecal microbiota transplantation (FMT), a method that in - volves injecting the fecal microorganisms of healthy persons who are highly likely to have similar structures of intestinal mi- crobiota to those of the patient in order to restore normal bac- terial flora in the intestines, has been shown to be effective in diverse clinical trials. Transplantation of the fecal microbiota leads to re-establishment of the patients’ intestinal environ- ment with the composition of the intestinal microbiota of the donor, eventually inducing relative control of C. difficile and thereby enabling effective treatment. 63,64 This method is very effective and has been reported to show cure rates in the range of 80−100%, according to the number of times of FMT admin- istration. It is very efficient in that the provision of healthy in- testinal microbiota enables acquisition of the ability to resist the secondary problem of infection with other pathogens such as vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus and carbapenem-re- sistant Enterobacteriaceae. 48,64,65 FMT appears to be an impor- tant alternative to antibiotics that destroy important commen- sal bacteria and provides colonization resistance, such as niche exclusion for pathogens, the production of antimicrobials, and activation of the immune system of the mucous layer. 64 Recent studies have attempted to control Salmonella infec- tions using bacterial flora, the taxa and characteristics of which were identified among bacteria isolated from the intestines. 62 The Microbial Ecosystem Therapeutic (MET-1) is an ecologi- cal system of 33 kinds of microorganisms isolated from hu-


Disruption of the Gut Ecosystem by Antibiotics man feces, consisting of Actinobacteria (mainly Bifidobacteri- um spp.),

Disruption of the Gut Ecosystem by Antibiotics

man feces, consisting of Actinobacteria (mainly Bifidobacteri- um spp.), Bacteroidetes, Firmicutes, and Proteobacteria. In MET-1-treated mice, body weight loss due to S. Typhimurium infection was observed, as well as a decrease in serum cyto- kines, NF-κB nuclear staining, and neutrophil infiltration in the cecum. In addition, ZO-1, a tight junction protein, was pre- served in the cecum, cellular localization of claudin-1 de- creased, and S. Typhimurium translocation to the spleen de- creased. However, there was no change in the colony forming units of Salmonella in the intestine. Therefore, MET-1 was th- ought to regulate systemic infections through maintenance of the tight junction to control access to the systemic circulation. 62 Despite many attempts and positive results, questions still remain about the safety of FMT. The interactions between pa- thogenic bacteria and microorganisms are not simple and re- lated information is still insufficient. In addition, industrial use of FMT is increasing, and the use of FMT by patients who have not been definitely diagnosed with CDI may cause other prob- lems, and there is the possibility of the existence of other patho- gens in the donor’s intestinal microbiota. Therefore, the use of FMT requires strict criteria regarding the optimized composition of intestinal microbiota, based on the composition and func- tions of microorganisms that fit the causative disease to be treat- ed, the age of the recipient, and the stage of disease progres- sion. 63 Obtaining a verified bacterial flora through total examin- ation of the health condition of the donor, determination of whether any genetic disease is latent, and detailed analysis of the composition of intestinal microbiota is very important. 64


The focus on probiotics began in 1908 when Metchnikoff re- ported the relationship between fermented food and longevity, explaining that intestinal microbiota develop the mucosal im- mune system and can prevent the invasion of infectious bac- teria. Thereafter, diverse bacterial taxa were tested under vari- ous experimental conditions to determine whether probiotics could treat a variety of gut-associated diseases such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, CDI, infectious diarrhea, and necrotizing enterocolitis. 35,61,66,67 The idea that probiotics could improve or prevent diarrhea began with the notion that these gut-associated diseases were caused by the collapse of “colonization resistance” due to the absence of normal bacterial flora. In many studies, probiotics have been used to treat gut-associated diseases through acti- vation of the immune system, competition for settlement sites in the intestinal cells, and the production of bacteriocin. These effects vary with the form and causes of diarrhea, such as viral diarrhea, antibiotic-related diarrhea, or traveler’s diarrhea. Probiotics are known to be very effective for the treatment of antibiotic-associated diarrhea, with Saccharomyces boulardii (S. boulardii), E. coli Nissle 1917, Lactobacillus, and Bifidobac- terium as the main focus of research. 66,68 Positive effects were identified under conditions where lactic acid bacteria such as


Lactobacillus GG (LGG), S. boulardii, E. faecium, Lactobacillus acidophilus (L. acidophilus), and Lactobacillus bulgaris were taken together with diverse types of antibiotics. 35 When healthy adults were instructed to take erythromycin and LGG, a reduc- tion in the duration of diarrhea symptoms from 8 days to 2 days was observed, and the incidence of related symptoms such as abdominal pain was reduced from 39% to 23%. In a pediatric study conducted with approximately 200 children who were administered antibiotics, prescription of LGG reduced the in- cidence of diarrhea from 26% to 8% and reduced the period of diarrhea from 5.88 days to 4.7 days. 67 In addition, L. plantarum 299v administered together with oral antibiotics alleviated the symptoms of diseases that occurred when the use of antibiotics was discontinued, and L. rhamnosus prevented diarrhea caused by antibiotic treatment. 68 S. boulardii is able to degrade C. diffi- cile toxin A and toxin B by releasing a 54 kDa protease. In a study conducted with 138 hospital patients in which patients who were randomly prescribed with the probiotic strain were com- pared with placebo patients, only 2.9% of those who took the probiotics were found to be C. difficile toxin-positive, compared with 7.25% of placebo patients. 61 When all fecal samples were examined, only 46% of the group that took probiotics showed C. difficile toxin-positive reactions compared with 78% of the pla- cebo group. In addition, the efficacy of probiotics as adjuvant therapeutic agents has also been demonstrated. In a study conducted with 124 adult Clostridium difficile-associated dis- ease patients, approximately 60% of patients prescribed with S. boulardii together with antibiotics showed relief of infection symptoms. In addition, S. boulardii has also shown relative ef- fects for the prevention of secondary diseases in patients at risk of recurrence of CDI, 61,67 although this is controversial. The results of studies conducted thus far indicate that the mechanisms through which probiotics can treat diseases are quite diverse, and information on which mechanisms individ- ual probiotics induce has not been fully verified. These mech- anisms vary with the types of bacterial taxa used as probiotics and the kind of experimental disease, and the known effects mainly include maintenance of interactions between the host and microorganisms, removal of bacteria, mucus secretion from goblet cells, control of the epithelial barrier function of the intestinal cells, production of anti-bacterial factors such as lactic acid, hydrogen peroxide, and bacteriocin, and activa- tion of the acquired immune system of the host. 20,35,67,68 How- ever, the different mechanisms used to produce beneficial ef- fects make the selection of probiotics difficult. Essentially, to verify the effects it is necessary to identify whether the probi- otics would survive, as well as the surface proteins and bacte- riocin produced. In addition, in order to use probiotics for di- verse diseases, both the disease and the mechanisms of the probiotics should be accurately delineated. Careful selection of fully understood and proven probiotics may provide an al- ternative therapy to improve health and replace antibiotics for primary therapeutic purposes.

  • Mi Young Yoon and Sang Sun Yoon

Mi Young Yoon and Sang Sun Yoon CONCLUSION Antibiotic-associated diarrhea occurring in patients who take antibiotics


Antibiotic-associated diarrhea occurring in patients who take antibiotics emphasizes the importance of a balanced intesti- nal microbiota. The effects of antibiotics on intestinal micro- biota are in fact clues to understanding which molecular sub- stances or mechanisms each infectious bacterium can ef- fectively utilize in the changed environment in order to grow and cause disease in the host environment. Recent studies have provided information on how antibiotics can alter the intesti- nal environment, how harmful bacteria and beneficial bacte- ria react, and how pathogenic bacteria use these environments. Pathogens exploit the sugars, radicals, and oxygen occurring as a result of disruption of intestinal microbiota and the host inflammatory response. Application of FMT and probiotics for eradication of gastrointestinal diseases and enteropathogens exhibits the potential to restore the degraded ecosystem and protection against colonization and proliferation of entero- pathogens. This new research has given us a greater under- standing and new directions when considering future ap- proaches to treat antibiotic-related infectious diseases.


This research was supported by grants from the National Re- search Foundation (NRF) of Korea, funded by the Korean gov- ernment (MSIP), 2017M3A9F3041233, 2017R1A2A2A05019987, 2015M3C9A2054024, and 2017R1A1A1A05001200.


  • Mi Young Yoon

Sang Sun Yoon


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